- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 11, 2004

The ruinous role of Zimbabwe thug-in-chief Robert Mugabe is causing much misery in his country and eroding the credibility of the African Union and the democratic leadership of African governments. Last week, Mr. Mugabe tightened his repressive yoke on dissent. Perhaps now events in Zimbabwe will claim the notice of its neighbors.

On Thursday, Zimbabwe’s Parliament, which is dominated by the ruling party, approved legislation that would effectively bar foreign or foreign-supported nongovernmental organizations from calling out the government’s violations. The Nongovernmental Organizations Bill, which passed by a 48-28 vote, prohibits domestic and other groups from accepting foreign money or other support to, for example, promote human-rights or “issues of governance.” Under the legislation, nongovernmental groups must disclose their financing, budgets and supporters, and the government can dissolve any group it claims is misusing money or violating regulations. A Zimbabwean living abroad is deemed a “foreigner” — convenient for the government, since at least one-quarter of the country’s citizens live outside the country, probably to escape Mugabe policies. The law covers all activities by houses of worship, which have been defiant critics of Mr. Mugabe.

On Friday, the International Bar Association accused Mr. Mugabe of conducting a reign of terror and said he should be brought to international justice. The London-based association, which comprises 190 bar associations and law societies from around the world, said there was staggering and well-documented evidence his government has committed murder, rape, abduction and enslavement. He has systematically denied food to opposition members — a powerfully coercive move, given the food and other shortages in a country that was previously a breadbasket of the continent. Mark Ellis, the association’s executive director, said there had been a “woeful response to Mr. Mugabe’s crimes” by many African governments. Mr. Ellis said in a supplement published in South Africa’s Mail and Guardian weekly: “His systematic oppression of an increasingly impoverished people and his government’s widespread policy of subverting the press, the rule of law and human rights are a desperate and brutal attempt to retain political power at all costs.”

The African Union, which was formed to promote solidarity on the continent, has been largely silent about Mr. Mugabe’s violations. That is unfortunate, since the AU says on its Web site that one of its objectives is “to promote democratic principles and institutions, popular participation and good governance” and “to promote and protect human and peoples’ rights in accordance with the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and other relevant human rights instruments.”

The union and individual governments across the continent must decide whether they stand with the people of Africa or with repressive dictators. Time is running out to take a stand in Zimbabwe. Crucial parliamentary elections are slated for March.

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